A PURPOSE STORY | DENZEL JOHNSON
Joel 2:25 says “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter.”
This verse illustrates God’s transformative work by healing, what I call, “broken cisterns” in my life. Three key themes from my story include overcoming adversity, spiritual heart surgery, and healing broken cisterns.
Before God changed my life, I was an insecure, broken, and misguided kid raised in Hawaii in a divorced household. My father’s physical absence in my life (I say physical because he PCS’d after they divorced) was the most impactful experience as a youngster. I coped with my desire for my father by trying so hard to “fit in” with people at school. I was “that” kid people ridiculed and picked on because I was smaller, weaker, and seemingly less intelligent than other students. Some classmates would ask me why I wasn’t like the other stereotypical “black guys” in terms of how I spoke, dressed, and conducted myself. I struggled with a battle to “prove myself” to the world that I was just as cool as the other students. One important note is that my mother is from Thailand, so I’m only half-black. But most people only saw the “black” outward appearance. I was also performing poorly academically which left a negative example for my little brother. But I wasn’t really concerned during those years of my life. This behavior continued until my sophomore year of high school.
God changed my life in high school by positioning key “aunties”, “uncles”, and coaches in my life before 10th grade.
In Hawaii, we treat everyone like our ohana (family) and as such we refer to anyone older than us as “aunty” or “uncle”. A godly woman named “Aunty Corinne” from my church in Hawaii felt led by the Holy Spirit to reach out to me after my freshman year with a “call to action.” She saw that I was living my life without any guidance and direction because I didn’t really believe in myself and felt compassion for me. She made a deal with me. If I finished next semester with only A’s and B’s, then she would purchase a brand-new iPod Touch for me. This was something I really wanted too. Auntie Corinne further encouraged me to “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3). I agreed to her proposal and focused on my relationship with God the next semester by attending youth groups and reading the Bible daily. I finished my second semester of 10th grade with a 3.8 GPA and we were both so happy! I didn’t think I could accomplish something like this. I always felt “less than” others. But the lesson she told me that she was teaching me was the amazing potential that God has gifted me with so long as I seek first His Kingdom in all areas of my life. I took her advice to heart and ran with it. My relationship with God continued to increase by the spiritual fathers God placed in my life to disciple and mentor me. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was another area God showed me my potential when I won my first martial arts tournament. Coach Ken, like Auntie Corinne, showed me my potential and abilities so long I seek first the Kingdom. I finished high school with a 4.0 GPA, went to college at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (which is another story of miracles by itself) and later attended graduate school at Texas A&M University.
After graduating from Texas A&M University in May 2020, God led me to an amazing opportunity to “heal broken cisterns” in my life with a men’s accountability group at my church in TX. I learned about how my past hurts, habits, and hang ups were at the root of my brokenness and struggles with different sins. I also learned about how my “father wound” (the absence of my father in my life growing up) was at the primary root of my brokenness. As I was going through this group and undergoing “spiritual heart surgery”, God led me to an opportunity to live with my dad during Fall 2020 to confront brokenness from my past and witness the Holy Spirit perform a miracle between us. This would’ve been totally unheard of a few years ago. I held onto so much anger, hatred, and resentment toward my father because he was physically absent while growing up.
But I watched God soften my heart toward him during a conversation with dad when he shared his life story and brokenness from his past.
Everything I learned that day caused me to take a step back and pray.
I couldn’t go back to those feelings of hatred and resentment because it’s the old saying “you don’t know, what you don’t know”. I learned about all the trauma he experienced from his parents passing away in high school, to being homeless in New Jersey, to seeing brothers KIA in Iraq and suffering from PTSD. There has been a generational curse of brokenness in my family of origin, even on my mom’s side too. I used to think “that’s just the way it is”. But because of living with my dad, I now have a newfound passion to bridge the gap and break down those generational curses and strongholds. The Holy Spirit told me, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when”. Living with my dad for 6 months was the best experience ever. I now have a strong growing relationship with my dad (who also happens to be a minister at his church in Lacey, WA). This experience has led me to craft my life’s mission as: To love God and others by living a lifestyle marked by the ALOHA Spirit and to be used by God to heal broken cisterns in people’s lives.